Iran Update: Number 121


  • Iran tests 9 missiles, including enhanced version of Shahab-3 MRBM
  • Article claims Bush administration authorized expanded covert operations in Iran
  • Threats over the Strait of Hormuz highlight latest rhetorical exchanges
  • Positive developments in Tehran’s consideration of revised P5+1 offer
  • Dismissed agent alleges CIA cover-up of Iranian nuclear program
  • Accusations of attempts on Ahmadinejad’s life in Italy and Iraq
  • British Special Forces claim evidence of Iranian assistance to Taliban militants

The Iranian military test-fired 9 missiles on July 9, including an increased-range version of its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). Iranian officials claim that the missile has a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles), which if true would enable Iran to strike Israel and the American fleet in the Persian Gulf-actions recently threatened by Ali Shiraz, Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in the event of a US or Israeli attack on the country’s nuclear facilities. Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad referred to the prospect of a strike on Iran as ‘a funny joke’. Iran’s missile testing was conducted after recent Israeli air exercises over Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean and US naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, as well as the imposition of new US sanctions against Iran specifically targeting Iranian citizens and companies thought to be connected to the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

In an article entitled ‘Preparing the Battlefield‘ in the current issue of The New Yorker, journalist Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration has authorized $400 million for expanded clandestine operations in Iran. Hersh claims that the operations “involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)” and are intended to destabilize Iran’s religious leadership, gather intelligence and possibly kill ‘high-value’ individuals. He also asserts that US Special Operations Forces use southern Iraq as a base for missions into Iran that they have been carrying out since last year. Ryan Crocker, the American Ambassador to Iraq, was quick to deny Hersh’s allegations, stating that, ‘I can tell you flatly that US forces are not operating across the Iraqi border into Iran, in the south or anywhere else.’ State Department spokesman Tom Casey also dismissed the article, referring to Hersh as a ‘conspiracy minded journalist’.

On June 28, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, warned the US and Israel that Iran would block entry to the Strait of Hormuz in the event of a military strike. The Strait is a critical waterway-connecting the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf-through which 90 percent of oil produced in the Persian Gulf travels. The Times notes that this accounts for ’40 per cent of the world’s traded oil supply’. The threat caused world oil prices to jump to $145 a barrel. In response, the commander of the US 5th Fleet, Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, said that the US and the international community would not allow such an action.

The threats over the Strait are just some of the latest examples of an international exchange of bellicose rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program the past few weeks. On June 30, Iranian General Mir-Faisal Bagherzadeh told the media that the country’s army plans to dig 320,000 graves for invading soldiers. In an interview with Der Spiegel, former Israeli Air Force general and Kadima party member Isaac Ben-Israel said that Israel had the capabilities to strike Iran at any time and ‘will not stand by idly while Iran builds a nuclear bomb’. Despite a string of similar statements by Israeli politicians, Israel’s leaders seemed to heed Bush’s call for multilateral diplomacy, assuring the West that they would not attack Iran in 2008. An official from Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that an attack on Iran would have ‘catastrophic’ impacts across the entire Middle East.

Time magazine notes that negotiations over the updated P5+1 package ‘would begin with the “freeze for freeze” proposal’. This proposal-presented by Javier Solana, the High Representative for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), to Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator-entails a six-week ‘freeze period’ in which Iran will not add additional centrifuges to its Natanz facility, while the international community will not levy further sanctions on Iran.

In recent days, the news regarding Tehran’s consideration of the updated P5+1 incentives package-covered in BASIC’s last Iran Update-has taken a positive turn. Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki and Ali Akbar Velayati, Ayatollah Khamenei’s foreign policy advisor, have indicated that compromise on the offer may be possible. Velayati said that the US wanted Tehran to dismiss the package, stating that, ‘[t]hose who are agitating against our interests want that we reject the offer. As a consequence, it is in our interests to accept it.’ The Supreme Leader himself has referred to the document as acceptable ‘in principle’. Iran issued a formal response to the offer over the weekend of July 5-6 and there appeared confusion as P5+1 officials were divided over the next step.

Solana plans to visit Tehran again on July 19 to continue negotiations with Iran. His visit will come in light of this week’s Hokkaido Toyako G-8 Summit, where world leaders pressed Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program and ‘to respond to the updated incentives package in a constructive manner’.

The US Congress is in the middle of debate over House Congressional Resolution 362. The bill calls for the US to prevent refined petroleum products from entering Iran and advocates a ‘stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains and cargo entering or departing Iran’. The passing of the bill may require a US naval blockade of Iran, which could be perceived a declaration of war.

On June 27, a former CIA agent filed a motion in US Federal Court urging the declassification of agency documents related to intelligence he obtained on Iran’s nuclear program. The operative-a 22-year agency veteran from the Middle East-claims that while conducting covert operations he discovered evidence about Iran and Iraq’s weapons programs which did not support the CIA’s positions. He alleges that his supervisors encouraged him to misrepresent his findings, suppressed the release of information with which they disagreed, and eventually brought false charges of misconduct against him, resulting in his dismissal from the agency.

Abolfazi Zohrevand, Iran’s former ambassador to Italy, claimed that an attempt was made on President Ahmadinejad’s life during a recent visit to Rome. Zohrevand cited abnormally high radiation levels in Ahmadinejad’s temporary residence as evidence of a conspiracy to kill the president during his visit to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters. This follows accusations made by President Ahmadinejad of US plans to kidnap and assassinate him during a March visit to Iraq. He promised to provide the international community with proof of the incident.

British Special Forces operating near the Iranian-Afghan border claim to have discovered evidence of Iranian arms supplies to Taliban fighters, in particular roadside bomb-making materials. Tehran denied any relationship with the Taliban, stressing its support for international counterterrorism efforts. June was the deadliest month of fighting in Afghanistan since late 2001, as NATO lost 49 ISAF troops, including 23 American and 13 British soldiers, many to roadside IED explosions. The UN reports also indicate dramatic increases in civilian deaths resulting from IED detonations.

Stories and links

McCain jokes about Iran cigarette sales, Citizen Wire Services, 09/07

Russia: Iran is ready for N-talks, Press TV, 09/07

Expert: ‘US won’t allow Israel to attack Iran’, Jerusalem Post, 08/07

UN’s Ban encouraged by EU dialogue with Iran, AFP, 07/07;_ylt=AscBrazUSvHsH3CA50y0HTFSw60A

Iran says hostages still alive in Israel, after 26 years, Gulf Times, 04/07

Netherlands bans Iranian students from nuclear studies , AFP, 04/07 080704224456;_ylt=AjY_9uTzkv8nYd8.KOboFy5Sw60A

US, Iran downplay talk of war over nuclear dispute, RFE/RL, 03/07

US admiral warns Israel against opening Iran ‘third front’, by James Sturcke, Guardian, 03/07

Iran minister: We might consider US diplomatic presence , CNN, 02/07

Iran: Frattini, not optimistic about answer to “P5+1”, AGI, 02/07

Bush to Press G8 to Keep Up Pressure on Extremists, Iran, by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service, 02/07

Iran remembers victims of airliner shot down by US, by Ali Akbar Dareini, AP, 02/07

Top US official: IAF unlikely to hit Iran in ’08, by Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, 01/07

Bagheri Appointed as Member of Iran’s N. Negotiating Team, Fars, 01/07

Good opportunity for G5+1 for talks with Iran: MPs, IRNA, 01/07

Iran sentences man to death for spying for Israel, by Hashem Kalantari and Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, 30/06

Rafsanjani: Israel can’t attack Iran, Press TV, 29/06

US Ambassador says more talks possible with Iran on Iraq, by Paula Wolfson, VOA News, 29/06

US elections: Congressional Democrats attack McCain on Iran sanctions, by Daniel Nasaw, Guardian, 26/06

US businessmen accused of military sales to Iran, by Brian Wagner, VOA News, 26/06

Iran condemns EU financial restrictions, IRNA, 24/06

Sarkozy calls nuclear Iran ‘unacceptable’, RIA Novosti, 23/06

Comments, editorial and analysis

US exports to Iran grow during Bush’s presidency, by Sharon Theimer, AP, 09/07

Tehran leaves no room for doubt, by Julian Borger, Guardian, 09/07

Escalation, audio interview with Seymour Hersh, The New Yorker, 07/07

Not so quiet on the Third Front, by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 03/07

Iran looks East as Europe looks the other way, by Luke Manzarpour, Press TV, 02/07

Will the US open an office in Iran?, by Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, 02/07

Thinking about Preventative Military Action against Iran, by Patrick Clawson and Michael Eisenstadt, Policywatch, 01/07

What Ahmadinejad does not say, by Shalom Freedman, Arutz Sheva, 30/06

Are sanctioned Iranian banks actually sponsoring anti-Western terror?, Haaretz, 26/06

Israel and Iran: It’s later than you think, The Economist, 26/06

Pressure tightens on Iran over nuclear program, by Gary Thomas, VOA News, 25/06

The case for Bombing Iran, by Norman Podhoretz, Commentary, June

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